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30th Dec 2013
 


Barrowclough's new EP 'Although We Claimed to Be Wise' is out now from Itunes and other online stores. Like http://www.healthprose.org/ the Barrowclough facebook page for updates.
 
Yes yes y'all.
 



 

6th Sep 2012
Zangers,

The ABH show on tues night was a lot of fun. You can see it here.

Barowclough and Joel the Custodian both got up for some ABH rap performances and then there's Catriona Heatherington's wild poetry in there too, which took me back the Doors' live albums I used to listen to all the time as a kid. 

Also, I dreamt about about the new Birmingham New Street train station last night. It was quite something.

BB

3rd Sep 2012
Zangers,

Its been a long time with no correspondence, so I'll fill you in on everything.

-The Army of the Broken Hearted are performing with guest appearances by Barrowclough and Joel the Custodian tomorrow night at the Bulls Head in Moseley.

-The New ABH album is sounding good, and I'm just coming towards the end of a short book to go with it. These days, when you make a record, everyone just thinks you're looking for a career as a rock star, so we're reduced to writing books to go with albums, to show that we mean what we say.

-Florent are working on a total rock album right now. Selina Blakeney is half way through a full length album, and Barrowclough is sitting on a second Zang EP.

-Its true that Waler have moved on from Zang having deconstructed the music world to the point that any kind of record label seemed superfluous. I'm just mastering their new ep now. It's really good. You'll be lucky to get one though. It's not for sale or up for free download or anything. I'm not totally sure, but I think the deal is that if you want one, you just have to get in touch with them somehow and show them that you care...

-I'm reading Mutiny! by Kester Brewin. Only a third in but I'd recommend it. So far it's quite fascinating.

-I've got a few brilliant ideas that I can't tell you about right now.

That's all.

BB  

20th May 2012
One of the most fascinating things about The Beatles is that they somehow managed to capture the zeitgeist of the 60s whilst in many ways representing its very antithesis. Their music and image weren't very sexually sugestive, they didn't have a particularly raucous sound or political message and they didn't really exude an image of recklessness, unlike many of the other iconic bands of that era such as The Rolling Stones, The Doors or Jimi Hendrix. Even during their later years, in their more 'far-out' period, they maintained a love for a kind of twee-ness that seemed at odds with the music that many of their 'credible' contemporaries were making. Its strange to think that songs like Tomorrow Never Knows and When I'm Sixty Four existed side by side on the same album.


13th May 2012


Such a great video that I had to share it. Some DIY punk "screw-the-industry-standards" brilliance. If only more of this stuff existed these days. Oh wait...


3rd May 2012


"Sheer indulgence from start to finish"

I saw this book advertised at the train station the other day.
If this was the 1950s, I can imagine this quote would be intended to be derogatory. Today, it's actually meant as an endorsement of this book. Either way, its very telling about what's inside.
Its clear that indulgence is now to be seen as a positive attribute.


23rd Apr 2012


On Sunday afternoon, my family enjoyed a unique and satisfying excursion. We drove around Birmingham city centre looking for art. It was kind of a safari, a treasure hunt and a gallery rolled into one. We loved it.

Basically, for those who have no idea what I’m on about, 45 advertising billboards in Birmingham city centre have been given over to artists to beautify England’s second city. It is a project called 48SHEET and is one of the best ideas I’ve seen come out of Birmingham’s art scene since I moved here 16 years ago.

Our afternoon then was spent following a map of the exhibits from Highgate to Hockley. While I appreciated the majority of the pieces displayed, the whole project had an effect beyond the individual billboards. As we searched for the exhibits amongst Renault Clio and vacuum cleaner advertisements, it made me start appreciating beauty that I’d never noticed before in my city. Impressive pre-blitz architecture. Original grafitti. Even some of the decay and urban squalor became striking in a way that could be enjoyed. Our conversation wandered on to the place of advertising in our lives. To the nature of art. To the mysteries of existence. Etc, etc.

I’ll be honest, we didn’t really get some of the exhibits (mostly the clock faces and surrealist slogans of the Delhi based Raqs collective) and didn’t get to see all of the billboards we were looking for (most regrettably Lucy Mclauchlan’s and the holiday and death ones) but for me the project worked utterly. It provoked thought and discussion and displayed some excellent pieces of art (Fazely St, in Digbeth, being our favourite cluster with Log Roper’s hand painted board and Steve Parson’s ‘Curiosity’)

However, at the same time, this ingenious exhibition was also incredibly frustrating. The 48SHEET project is an example of all that is good and bad about the Birmingham art scene. You see, nobody in Birmingham actually knows this is going on. I only found out about it because I happen to know one of the artists involved (Log Roper) and stumbled across one of his facebook posts. Nobody who I have mentioned it to had any idea what was I was talking about. Nobody. Not one person. The Ikon magazine gave over one page to it. Birmingham Whats On didn’t even mention it. Either this is a subversive attempt at anti-promotion as an artform or simply just an example of poor promotion. In either case, its inexcusable considering the wealth of talent on display and presumably the amount of money it cost to borrow all those valuable ad spaces. If you don’t know what is going on, in the majority of cases, you will simply find it annoying that so much of the advertising in your city has become so vague and arty. You definitely won’t take your family on a pre-Nando’s art safari on a Sunday afternoon and notice Curzon Street Station for the first time.

This is absolutely typical. How many times do us Brummies find out about some cool event just after its happened? You really have to work pretty hard to find out when things like the Flyover show or the Flat pack festival are happening. And that is if you care. Everyone else just goes on with their lives, oblivious of the fact that Birmingham is packed full of quality artists and has the potential to be a thriving, creative hub.

Someone needs to get hold of the Birmingham art scene and all its hidden genius and organise it. Promote it. Shout about it. Come up with a 5 year plan. Some targets. Maybe something could be learnt from the billboards that are being replaced and cleverly derided. At least JCDecaux and the corporations that use their spaces have a plan. The Birmingham art scene has one off ideas galore, but appears to be going nowhere in a very pretty, clever fashion. I really hope that this appearance is a deceptive trick hiding a well thought out path of momentum leading to Birmingham becoming the European Capital of culture in 2016. I have my doubts.

Please go and do the tour (http://boregis.com/48sheet/). At least, commute with your eyes open. But it’ll be all gone by 29th April, so don’t blink or you’ll miss it.


6th Apr 2012


The empire announces its demise in peculiar ways.

Recent cultural output of the West has talked about endings. The Road, 2012 etc. and the free downloading of music is like a last-minute giveaway from a bankrupt record shop.
It is clearly demoralised. And we are demoralised along with it. But why?

Because of our deep connection to the Empire we may have believed that we are dying along with it. After all, it schooled us. It brought us up. But it’s not us who are dying - only the empire itself. And empires come and go. It wanted us to feel part of its mission, and it also wanted us to feel that we couldn’t go on without it. And maybe we do. But should we go down with this ship?

This is an empire that said objects were more important than people. That insisted everyone should be demeaned. That turned freedom into a four letter word. It has oppressed us, told lies about us, and misrepresented us. And now it is dead.

What is there to feel sad about?




5th Apr 2012

"I believe that when ya pray, you're tryin' ta get yer thinkin' straight, tryin' ta see what's wrong with th' world, an' who's ta bame fer it. Part of it is crooks, crooked laws, an' jist dam greedy people, people that's afraid of this an' afraid of that. Part of it's all of this, an' part of it's jist dam shore our own fault..."

Woody Guthrie, the folk singer of 1930s-50s migratory America, travelling homeless for years over the huge country, stowed away on freight trains and boxcars, singing for small change to the masses of poor people who were hoping to find work and a life somewhere. I bought his autobiography Bound for Glory looking for a vision that the ABH might relate to, of an artist giving his work to grass roots people for their liberation and empowerment. The book really only gets to all that in the last third, but it did get there.

The nature of his approach is very ABH-ish in the following respects: his music is simple enough to play anywhere. He just needs his guitar. He didn't need a venue or a mic or what-have-you (although he often played in bars for the change he was living on). His songs responded to his moment of history. To work, poverty, exploitation, drink, prostitution, injustice, mortality, TB, racism, ships and trains, beauty, war, the love of his people, and the love of a beautiful land. His songs distinguished between sheep and shepherds, oppressor and oppressed, the many and the few. His songs critiqued injustice and oppression. His songs incited social and spiritual dialogue among grass roots people. He rejected the money and the reputation that came with the rich bars and restaurants, opting instead for solidarity with the poor. The people could join in with his music. His music created situations that unified people in a shared social/spiritual experience.


 
Maybe the most vivid episode comes after he's been a travelling homeless musician for some years and he arrives in New York. There he auditions for a steady job in a fancy restaurant high up in the Rockefeller building, but he walks out of the room once the managers start talking about make-up and show tunes and dressing him up like a clown. Down in the lobby he starts playing his songs, dumbfounding everyone there with the spectacle. He then walks out and all over Manhattan till after dark, playing songs and accumulating a crowd of people as he goes. These stories are about the people, about unity, solidarity, community, sharing joy, sharing pain and so on. Scene after scene he brings crowds of people together like this.


It's a very ABH picture and I think we've created our own similar scenes to similar ends. I wanted to spend some time thinking about some of the differences between Woody Guthrie's migratory America of the 1930's and our 21st century British scene.

Migratory America is made of masses of very poor people and families moving around and looking for work. A virtually homeless class looking to build a life from scratch. They dreamed of putting roots down. It was sort of a blank canvass... a developing country with only developing infrastructure. It was still young in its cultural story. What would this country become? What would it end up looking like? What kinds of politics and economics would prevail? And it was only just the dawn of mass culture, and music was not yet heavily mediated. If you heard the sound of music, probably someone was sat there playing it. To hear it on the radio was a novelty.

21st Century Britain is made up largely of a homogenous mass of private individuals and families, each in their own private space, working essentially to maintain their position in the consumerist programme. This is a developed country that has become all that it will ever be (or, that the feeling anyway), and has found itself in a kind of spiritual crisis - utterly disillusioned with all it has managed to become. It is in the thick of the process of mediating life in its entirety, a process which has cheapened the value of music along with everything else by making it commonplace and unreal.

So while Guthrie's Americans were a people being formed, we are a people being dismantled. While their American story was young, unwritten and full of possibilities, ours is old, exhausted and heavy with boredom. While the popular music of migratory America came largely from the voices and hands of ordinary people, our popular music has been absorbed into mediums and commodified. The ordinary people only imitate the music that the powerful mediate to them.

What do these distinctions mean for ABH practice?

Firstly, the deconstruction of our peoplehood only calls all the louder for public music in public space for public ears and public participation. The difference is that, for us, it is a subversive act, which I don't think it was for Guthrie so much. For them it was a step towards something. For us it is a radical about turn, a non-compliance with the general direction of things.

Secondly, and similarly, the absorption of popular music into the hands of the powerful, who hold the keys to mass culture, only reinforces the need for local, live, grass-roots manifestations of art, without technological mediums between giver and receiver, and without a third party of beneficiaries, labels, advertisers and sponsors and such hovering around the edges, diluting total public ownership. Guthrie was not an artist being marketed to the people, he was one of the people and the sincerity and power of that connection was possible because of the general absence of mediums or third parties. Again, the difference is that for us it is an act of subversion to work outside the structures that have become ubiquitous - that claim to be a totality with no possibility of life outside or beyond itself.

The third consideration seems most layered and poignant to me right now. That is, the difference between being at the beginning or the end of a historical narrative... the rise of a nation, or the fall of one. It follows that Guthrie’s songs may be loaded with a certain steadfast hope about where they might be headed as a people, whereas ours are necessarily loaded with lament about where we've got to. What kind of hope do we project into a time like this? That is, towards which new possibilities do we energise each other? Lament for its own sake is of no interest to us.

In 2004 I asked a lot of Christians whether they thought that we as a people could change or be changed for the better. The answer was 'no' every time. Human history had to be seen as a downward spiral, and ours looked like the sorriest case. But my conviction was that we had to contend for liberation through repentance, and that it had to be possible. Maybe the people would never accept the subversive dare to, against the empire's wishes, turn around and stare in the face of God, but they could. It has to be a genuine possibility, and not just a joke. My conviction was that a person has to contend for this possibility, or be a liar when he prays May Your Kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven...

The hope is in God's very odd response to repentance. What kind of power does this nearly unutterable incantation release? What new and unforeseen possibilities? The empire denies and forbids the recognition of any power greater than itself, but if we were to rebel and give our attention to such a power, what would we find? A power like the empire, only more so? Or different in kind, releasing a whole other lot of possibilities? It will surprise us every time, even if we thought we already understood it. It is not a purely historical hope, but it not a purely super-historical hope either. As the prayer above suggests it has to be absolutely both.

We should consider the subject further soon.


10th Mar 2012

Digital mediums and user-generated content have reversed the traditional power balance between artist and audience. The artist used to have the power but now that has been passed to us, the audience.

The internet is like a medieval court with every youtube viewer cast as the all-powerful king and all artists are like the peasant Jesters desperate to please them.

The artists put everything into their performance, desperate for validation but if they are not to our particular tastes or if they misjudge our mood or simply make the slightest mistake then they are instantly shuffled off, never to be heard again, and the king roars "next!" and some other poor fool steps up.



Benjamin Blower
Fiction Fight
Florent
Barrowclough
The Custodians
Waler
Josiah Gillespie
Greybeard
Bethan Marshall
University of the King
Selina Blakeney
The Zang Productions Ensemble
Ickberg
Vincent Gould